There has never been a women’s movement to speak of in Cyprus. There are a few NGOs dealing with women’s issues, but they are not often heard, adopting a rather low-key approach probably because they do not seek publicity. The bigger political parties also have women’s wings but they rarely, if ever, campaign on gender issues because either the party leadership does not consider these vote-winners or the female members are not forceful enough to impose their agenda.
It therefore came as a bit of a surprise to see women outside the Famagusta district court loudly voicing support in the latter stages of the trial of the British teenager who was eventually found guilty of making false rape allegations and given a suspended four-month prison sentence. This group of women was outside the court when the judge issued his decision, expressing their strong objections to it and returned on Tuesday for the sentencing.
Both times they made their presence felt, their main slogan being ‘We believe you’. During sentencing on Tuesday they chanted ‘We want justice, we don’t want favours,’ in reference to reports there would be a presidential pardon if the judge sentenced her to prison. It was good old-fashioned public campaigning, the Cypriot women joined by some Britons and about 50 Israeli women that had flown over especially for the sentencing.
In fact, the presence of the Israeli women had helped the Cypriot activists to be more assertive, said one of them speaking to The Guardian newspaper. “They were able to say ‘we believe you’ when here we could only talk about the young woman not being given a fair trial,” said Zelia Gregoriou, a lecturer at the University of Cyprus. This was, in a way, an acknowledgment of the rather timid approach women’s groups adopted on gender issues and a realisation that without more assertiveness nothing would be achieved.
Of course, there is much to be done before women can make a real breakthrough in our rather conservative, male-dominated society. First, they need to spread their message more broadly in order to mobilise support – there were only a few dozen women at the court. They should campaign on a variety of platforms, raise funds, initiate public debate on gender matters, put pressure on ministries and try to involve the political parties. Things will not change overnight, but through systematic efforts and constantly demanding a say.
It could be said that a small first step was made outside the Famagusta district court.